Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. James, a servant of God, and of our Lord Jesus Christ. Some have doubted whether the author of this epistle was St. James, the apostle, because he does not call himself an apostle. By the same weak argument we might reject all the three epistles of St. John and his Apocalypse, and the epistle of St. Jude. Nor does St. Paul give himself this title in those to the Thessalonians, to the Philippians, to Philemon, or to the Hebrews. — To the twelve tribes, which are dispersed. Literally, which are in the dispersion. That is, to the Jews converted in all nations. — Greetings. Literally, salvation. Which comprehendeth much the same as, when St. Paul says, grace, peace, mercy, &c. (Witham)
Ver. 2. Into divers temptations. The word temptations, in this epistle, is sometimes taken for trials by afflictions or persecutions, as in this place; sometimes for a tempting, enticing, or drawing others into sin. (Witham)
Ver. 3-4. The trying of your faith worketh patience. St. Paul seems to assert the reverse: (Romans v. 3.) when he says, patience worketh a trial. They are easily reconciled. Here St. James teacheth us, that patience is occasionally obtained, and strengthened by sufferings, the meaning of St. Paul is, that patience worketh, sheweth itself, and is found perfect in the sight of God by trials. (Witham)
Ver. 5. And upbraideth not. That is, God does not think much, nor reproach us with the multitude of his benefits and favours: and if he puts sinners in mind of their repeated ingratitude, it is for their good and conversion. (Witham)
Ver. 7. Let not that man think that he shall receive. He that has not a lively faith and firm hope, wavering with a distrust of God’s power or goodness, must not imagine to receive what he so faintly asks. (Witham)
Ver. 8. Such a one, is as it were a double-minded man, divided betwixt God and the world, halting betwixt two, and becomes inconstant in all his ways, always rising and falling, beginning and relapsing. (Witham)
Ver. 9-12. The brother of low condition. Literally, humble. See Luke i. 48. The sense is, that a Christian, of never so low and poor a condition, may glory, and rejoice even in his poverty, that he is not only the servant, but even the adoptive son of God. But the rich, in his being low. Some word must be here understood to make the sense complete. If we understand, let the rich man glory, it must be expounded by irony, by what follows, of his passing away like a flower. But others rather understand some other word of a different signification; as, let the rich man lament the low condition that he must come to; for he must quickly fade away like grass. — The beauty of the shape thereof perished. So the Hebrews say, the face of the heavens, the face of the earth, &c. (Witham)
Ver. 13. God is not a tempter of evils, and he tempteth no man. Here to tempt, is to draw and entice another to the evil of sin, which God cannot do. The Greek may also signify, he neither can be tempted, nor tempt any one. But every one is thus tempted by the evil desires of his corrupt nature, which is called concupiscence, and which is not properly called a sin of itself, but only when we yield to it. (Witham)
Ver. 15. When concupiscence hath conceived, (man’s free will yielding to it) it bringeth forth sin, our perverse inclinations become sinful, and when any grievous sin is completed, or even consented to, it begetteth death, it maketh the soul guilty of eternal death. It may not be amiss here to observe with St. Gregory, &c. that there are three degrees in temptations: the first, by suggestion only; the second, by delectation; the third, by consent. The first, the devil, or our own frail nature, tempts us by a suggestion of evil thoughts in our imagination: to have such thoughts and imaginations may be no sin at all, though the things and objects represented be never so foul and hideous, though they may continue never so long, and return never so often. The reason is, because we cannot hinder them. On the contrary, if our will remains displeased with them, and resist them, such a resistance is meritorious, and by the mercies of God will purchase us a reward. Second, these representations may be followed with a delight or delectation in the senses, or in the body only; and if by an impression made against the will, which we no ways consent to, there is again no sin. There may be also some neglect in the person tempted, by not using sufficient endeavours to resist and repel those thoughts, which if it be only some small neglect, the sin is not great: but if the person tempted hath wilfully, and with full deliberation, taken delight in evil thoughts, either of revenge, or of fornication, or adultery, or about any thing very sinful, such a wilful delight is a grievous and deadly sin, though he hath not had a will or design to perform the action itself. The reason is, because he then wilfully consents in mind and heart to a sinful delight, though not to the execution or action. And the sin may be great, and mortal, though it be but for a short time: for a temptation may continue for a long time and be no sin; and there may be a great sin in a short time. The reason again is, because we are to judge of sin by the dispositions and consent of the will, not by the length of time. Third, when the sinner yields to evil suggestions and temptations, so that his will fully consents to what is proposed, and nothing can be said to be wanting but an opportunity of putting his sinful desires in execution, he has already committed the sin; for example, of murder, of fornication, &c. in his heart, as our blessed Saviour taught us. (Matthew v. 28.) (Witham)
Ver. 16-17. Do not err, nor deceive yourselves by yielding to temptation; beg God his supporting grace, for every good gift is from him. (Witham)
Ver. 18. By the word of truth. Some, with St. Athanasius, understand the eternal word made man. Others commonly understand the word of the gospel, by which we have been called to the true faith, &c. — Some beginning of his creatures, (or as the Greek signifies) such a beginning as are the first-fruits; and perhaps St. James may so call the Jews, as being the first converted to believe in Christ. (Witham)
Ver. 19. You know, or you are sufficiently instructed in these things. — Let every man be swift to hear the word of God, but slow, or cautious in speaking, especially slow to anger, or to that rash passion of anger, which is never excusable, unless it be through a zeal for God’s honour, and against sin. (Witham) — St. James in this epistle does not aim at a regular discourse: he proposes a diversity of moral sentences, which have not much connection with each other. He here instructs the faithful how to behave in conversation. He recommends to them modesty and prudence in their discourses; and rather to be fond of hearing much, than of speaking much; and of practising the truth, than of preaching it to others. “For not those who understand the law, nor those who preach it, are justified before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified before God.” (Romans chap. ii. 13.) (Calmet) — A wise man is known by the fewness of his words. Sapiens verbis innotescit paucis. (Rule of St. Benedict, chap. vii.) With hearing, the wise man will become wiser. (Sen. [Seneca?] lib. ii. de Irâ. chap. 28.) — Anger is a short madness. The best cure is to permit it to subside, and to let our reason have time to reflect upon the propriety of doing what we are at first inclined to. The first motions to anger are frequently indeliberate, and consequently not sinful; but we must be careful to resist as soon as we perceive them, lest they should become too violent, and obtain the consent of our will. (Calmet) — Learn of me, says our Saviour, because I am meek and humble of heart. (Matthew chap. xii. 29.) If, says St. Francis de Sales, being stung and bit by detractors and enemies, we fly out, swell, and are enraged, it is a great sign that neither our humility nor meekness are true and sincere, but only apparent and artificial. It is better, says St. Augustine, writing to Profuturus, to deny entrance to just and reasonable anger, than to admit it, be it ever so little; because, being once admitted, it is with difficulty driven out again; for it enters as a little twig, and in a moment becomes a beam: and if it can once but get the night of us, and the sun set upon it, which the apostle forbids, it turns into a hatred, from which we have scarcely any means to rid ourselves; for it nourishes itself under a thousand false pretexts, since there was never an angry man that thought his anger unjust. (St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to a devout life, p. 3. chap. viii.)
Ver. 20. The anger of man, &c. Let us not then be angry with each other on the way to eternal life, but rather march on with the troop of our companions and brethren meekly, peaceably, and lovingly; nay, I say to you absolutely and without exception, be not angry at all, if it be possible, and admit no pretext whatsoever to open the gate of your heart to so destructive a passion: for St. James here tells us positively, and without reservation, “the anger of man works not the justice of God.” (St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to a devout life, p. 3. chap. viii.) — The patient man is better than the valiant; and he that ruleth his spirit, than he that taketh cities. (Proverbs chap. xvi. 32.) The anger of man is the daughter of pride, the mother of enmities, he enemy of peace and harmony, and the source of stubbornness and blindness of mind and heart. The justice of God is humility, meekness, charity, peace, docility, and forbearance. How great the contrast!
Ver. 21. All uncleanness. The Greek shews that hereby is meant a sordid, filthy uncleanness, infecting and defiling the soul. — The engrafted word. The word and doctrine of Christ, by the labours of his preachers, and chiefly by his divine grace engrafted and fixed in your souls. (Witham)
Ver. 23. He shall be compared to a man, &c. The sense is, that it is not enough for a man to examine and look into his interior, and the state of his conscience in a negligent and superficial manner, no more than one that goes to a looking-glass, but does not take care to take away the dirt or spots which he might discover. (Witham)
Ver. 25. The law of Christ, called here the perfect law of liberty, as it is distinguished from the Jewish law of fear and slavery, is as it were a looking-glass, which may make us know ourselves, and discover and correct our failings. (Witham)
Ver. 26. If any man think, &c. He here blames those hot disputes, which seem to have been frequent amongst the converted Jews, concerning the necessity of observing the legal rites. In vain, says he, do you pique yourselves upon the rigorous observance of the law, and your zeal to unite its ceremonial rites with the practice of the gospel. If you be void of the essence of Christianity, which is charity, prudence, and moderation, your religion will avail you nothing. (Calmet) — This may also be understood of those devotees who are fond of making a parade of their virtues, and who, as St. Gregory says, (hom. xii. in Mat.) afflict their bodies indeed with fasting, but for this they expect to be esteemed by men. (Haydock) — A man must not imagine himself to be religious, and perfect in the way of virtue, unless he governs and bridles his tongue from oaths, curses, calumnies, detractions, lies, of which more in the third chapter. (Witham)
Ver. 27. Religion pure and unspotted, &c. St. James may use the word pure, as a proper admonition to the Jews, who were generally mostly solicitous to avoid legal uncleanness, such as were incurred by eating meats forbidden in their law as unclean, by touching a dead body, &c. He therefore tells them that the Christian religion is known by acts of charity, by visiting and assisting widows, the fatherless, and such as are under afflictions, and in general by keeping our consciences interiorly clean, unspotted, and undefiled from this world, from the corrupt maxims and sinful practices so common in this wicked world. (Witham)
 Ver. 1. Salutem, chairein, salvari, salvos esse.
 Ver. 8. Duplex animo, aner dipsuchos, quasi habens duas animas, dubius, incertus, potius quam hypocrita.
 Ver. 9. Humilis, and in humilitate, tapeinos, tapeinosei. See Luke i. 48.
 Ver. 11. Decor vultus ejus, euprepeia tou prosopou; the Hebrews say, faciem, cœli, terræ, gladii, &c.
 Ver. 13. Deus enim intentator, i.e. non tentator; by the Greek, apeirastos; which may signify intentabilis, qui non potest tentari.
 Ver. 15. Generat mortem, apokuei thanaton; apokuein is fætum emittere, and generare, as it is also here again used ver. 18.
 Ver. 18. Initium aliquod creaturæ ejus, aparchen tina. See Romans xi. 16.; 1 Corinthians xv. 20. and xvi. 15. &c.
 Ver. 21. Immunditiam, ruparian, from rupos, sordes, spurcitia.
 Ver. 21. Insitum verbum, emphuton logon.
Bible Text & Cross-references:
The benefit of tribulations. Prayer with faith. God is the author of all good, but not of evil. We must be slow to anger; and not hearers only, but doers of the word. Of bridling the tongue; and of pure religion.
1 James, a servant of God, and of our Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are dispersed, greeting.
2 My brethren, count it all joy, when you shall fall into divers temptations:
3 *Knowing that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
4 And patience hath a perfect work: that you may be perfect and entire, deficient in nothing.
5 But if any of you want wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all abundantly, and upbraideth not: and it shall be given him.
6 *But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering: for he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea, that is moved and carried about by the wind.
7 Therefore let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.
8 A double-minded man is inconstant in all his ways.
9 But let the brother of low condition glory in his exaltation:
10 But the rich, in his being low, *because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away:
11 For the sun rose with a burning heat, and parched the grass, and the flower thereof fell off, and the beauty of the shape thereof perished: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.
12 *Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he hath been proved, he shall receive the crown of life, which God hath promised to them that love him.
13 Let no man, when he is tempted, say, that he is tempted by God: For God is not a tempter of evils: and he tempteth no man.
14 But every man is tempted, being drawn away by his own concupiscence, and allured.
15 Then when concupiscence hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: But sin, when it is completed, begetteth death.
16 Do not err, therefore, my dearest brethren.
17 Every best gift, and every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no change, nor shadow of vicissitude.
18 For of his own will hath he begotten us by the word of truth, that we might be some beginning of his creatures.
19 You know, my dearest brethren: *And let every man be swift to hear; but slow to speak, and slow to anger.
20 For the anger of man worketh not the justice of God.
21 Wherefore casting away all uncleanness, and abundance of malice, with meekness receive the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
22 *But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
23 For if a man be a hearer of the word, and not a doer; he shall be compared to a man beholding his natural countenance in a glass:
24 For he beheld himself, and went his way, and presently forgot what manner of man he was.
25 But he that shall look into the perfect law of liberty, and continue in it, not becoming a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work; this man shall be blessed in his deed.
26 But if any man think himself to be religious, not bridling his tongue, but deceiving his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.
27 Religion, pure and immaculate with God and the Father, is this: To visit the fatherless and widows in their tribulation, and to keep one’s self immaculate from this world.
3: Romans v. 3.
6: Matthew vii. 7. and xxi. 22.; Mark xi. 24.; Luke xi. 9.; John xiv. 13. and 16.
10: Ecclesiasticus xiv. 18.; Isaias xl. 6.; 1 Peter i. 24.
12: Job v. 17.
19: Proverbs xvii. 27.
22: Matthew vii. 21. and 24.; Romans ii. 13.